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How ranked choice voting could restore the concept of majority rule

Already being used in New York City and a number of states, RCV offers the added benefit of forcing candidates to appeal to a broader constituency, reducing negative campaigning.

How ranked choice voting could restore the concept of majority rule
[Illustration: Raymond Biesinger]

Two of the last five presidential elections were won by candidates who did not win majority support. Meanwhile, congressional candidates have been winning primaries with as little as 21% of the popular vote. For a democracy founded on the principle of majority rule, this is a problem. The Ranked Choice Voting Act, sponsored by Maryland congressman Jamie Raskin (and cosponsored by 13 representatives, thus far all Democrats), seeks to implement a fairer process for U.S. House and Senate elections, beginning in 2022. In an RCV election, voters rank as many candidates as they like in order of preference. (Voters are not obligated to rank—they can make a single selection if they choose.) If no candidate wins a majority of votes, a recount instantly occurs: The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and ballots that included that candidate as the top choice now count toward their second choice. The process is repeated until a single candidate wins a majority. Ranked Choice Voting is not a new concept—it’s been used periodically by various states and municipalities since at least 1912—but it’s gaining popularity. Last year, New York City residents voted to begin using RCV for mayoral and city council elections, and a number of states are adopting it as well, including Nevada (for its Democratic presidential caucuses), Maine (to decide electoral college votes), and Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, and Wyoming (for their 2020 Democratic primaries). RCV offers another benefit as well: forcing candidates to appeal to a broader swath of constituents. “It replaces negative political incentives with positive political incentives,” Raskin says. “It gets us away from the vicious zero-sum game of negative politics we’ve fallen into.”

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About the author

Noted expert on nicotine gum chewing and Hawkeye wrestling fan, Jay Woodruff is a contributing editor at Fast Company. After helping launch the quarterly DoubleTake, he joined Esquire and later held senior editorial positions at Entertainment Weekly and oversaw digital at Maxim, Blender and Stuff

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